We live in a military city, and so on Memorial Day we have many choices of services to attend at cemeteries, or parks, or mountain tops. I always like to show an old war movie to my teenage daughters to help them appreciate why we remember those who have died in defense of our country.
Twelve O’Clock High (1949 NR), directed by Henry King, is the story of a tough general, General Savage (Gregory Peck), who takes over an American bomber unit based in England and tries to make them a success.
The movie takes place early in World War II, when the military was still trying to figure out how best to use the new B-17 bombers. Flying into Germany at night, and at high altitude, caused the bombs to land inaccurately. So, Gen. Savage is told to get the 21 airplanes and their crew of 10 men each to fly during the day, and to fly low, so that the bombs reach their target. This most certainly will make their planes easier targets for German fighter planes and anti aircraft guns, and increases the risk of loss of life.
The movie is a bit odd. It was released in 1949, just four years after the end of World War II. From the movie poster tag line, “A Story of Twelve Men as Their Women Never Knew Them,” I think the intention was to reveal the peril that the crew in the air endured. Also on the poster is a pretty nurse. In the movie women are rarely seen, and only have a few inconsequential words to say (“More coffee, General?”).
The movie also starts unnecessarily in the present (1949) and spends too much time getting to the 1942 flashback. And for a movie about a bomber squadron, the flight footage is saved until the very end. That is because the director used actual footage, which must have been impressive to audiences at the time. Still is.
Then, notice the twelve men mentioned in the poster. The movie rarely uses close ups, and with everyone in uniform, or covered in flight gear, and everyone Caucasian, it is hard to tell the men apart. Watch the movie with other people, so you can help each other keep the characters straight.
A more recent movie, Memphis Belle (1990), does a better job at conveying the life of a bomber squadron. But where this movie succeeds is in showing General Savage’s commitment to winning the war – at all costs.